Hannity was not alone in smearing, misinforming on Fox News in 2008

While Fox News' Sean Hannity earned Media Matters for America's “Misinformer of the Year” title for 2008, he was not alone in spreading conservative misinformation on Fox News. Indeed, smears of President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton were prevalent during the presidential campaign, and false claims about progressive policies, issues, and individuals were common throughout Fox News programming.

Rumors that Obama lied about his faith and other smears

During the September 10 edition of America's Newsroom, in response to Obama's statement that false rumors are “being promulgated on Fox News” about his purported “Muslim connections,” host Bill Hemmer asserted that "[n]o one here is promulgating untrue rumors about anyone's faith." In fact, Fox News had suggested that Obama was lying about being a Christian and actually was or had secretly been a Muslim, or discussed those rumors without noting they are false:

  • On Special Report, host Brit Hume pointed to a statement on Obama's website that Obama “has never been a Muslim, and is a committed Christian” and stated: “But Obama's half brother is not so sure.” Hume continued: “Malik Obama tells The Jerusalem Post that 'if elected his brother will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background.' ” In fact, the article to which Hume was apparently referring indicated that Malik Obama did not speak directly with the Post but, rather, gave an interview to Israel's Army Radio. Moreover, nowhere in audio of the interview that ABC's Jake Tapper posted did Malik Obama assert that Obama “will be a good president for the Jewish people, despite his Muslim background.” Purporting to issue a correction following his false claim, Hume suggested that his only “error” was in repeating a flawed report in the Post, without acknowledging that he had falsely claimed Malik Obama had spoken with The Jerusalem Post. [6/16/08]
  • On Fox & Friends, Kilmeade, who had previously falsely asserted that Obama "[e]vidently ... went to a madrassa" as a child, asked a guest: "[D]o you find it insulting at all when Barack Obama goes out of his way to say, 'Hey, I am not a Muslim. I'm a Christian, and let's stop these spread' [sic] as if being a Muslim is bad?" However, on the January 19, 2007, editions of Fox & Friends First and Fox & Friends, Kilmeade, Doocy, and Carlson spent several segments advancing a false report that Obama was raised a Muslim and had attended a madrassa as a child. [6/25/08]
  • Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson, referring to radio host Bill Cunningham's repeated reference to Obama's middle name, asserted "[T]he silent thing that nobody is really talking about here is the reason that he was saying the middle name so many times ... is because the connotation is that Barack Obama is a Muslim potentially. His father was a Muslim." Carlson then referred to claims that Obama is a Muslim as “rumors,” but neither she nor co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade pointed out that those rumors are false, and that Obama is a Christian. [2/27/08]

Smears questioning Obama's faith were not the only attacks Fox News leveled at Obama. Others include:

  • On The Live Desk, Republican strategist Christine O'Donnell asserted that Obama was “so liberal, that -- he's anti-American.” [1/7/08]
  • On Your World, Ann Coulter repeatedly referred to “B. Hussein Obama” and said, “It's shocking that ... he's probably going to be our next president, President Hussein.” During a subsequent appearance on Hannity & Colmes, co-host Alan Colmes asked Coulter, “Why do you keep emphasizing his [Obama's] middle name as if you're trying to associate him with Saddam Hussein?” Coulter replied, “Because I think it's funny.” During that interview, Coulter referred to Obama as “B. Hussein Obama” twice and interjected: “Get ready for President Hussein, and let's start planning for the next president.” [2/13/08]
  • On The Big Story with Gibson & Nauert, Republican strategist and former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed said of comments made by Michelle Obama, "[I]t plays into a stereotype about the left wing of the Democratic Party, that it blames America first, that they don't see the greatness of America." Former host John Gibson responded by asking, “Does that mean that President Barack will blame America first?” [2/19/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Karl Rove misrepresented Obama's explanation for not wearing an American flag lapel pin, falsely asserting that Obama's comments amounted to saying, “If you wear a flag lapel pin, you're not a true patriot.” In fact, Obama said he stopped wearing a pin because it had become “a substitute for, I think, true patriotism”; he did not say, as Rove claimed, that the wearer was “not a true patriot.” [4/17/08]
  • On America's Newsroom, Republican strategist Andrea Tantaros stated without challenge from co-host Bill Hemmer, “Barack Obama refuses to salute the flag. He refuses to wear a flag pin. He's been named the most liberal senator in the United States Senate right now.” [5/12/08]
  • Teasing a segment on the “gesture everyone seems to interpret differently” -- Obama touching fists with his wife after apparently securing the Democratic nomination for president -- E.D. Hill, former host of America's Pulse, said: “A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? ... We'll show you some interesting body communication and find out what it really says.” During the discussion of the “interesting body communication,” Hill did not explain her reference to “a terrorist fist jab.” Hill subsequently addressed the ensuing controversy surrounding her comments. [6/6/08]
  • While assessing Obama's July 24 speech in Berlin, a Fox News on-air graphic asked, “Obama a Rock Star Over There: Red Flag for All Americans Here?” [7/24/08]
  • On Hannity & Colmes, radio host Mike Gallagher falsely asserted that Obama and his wife said their daughters do not get Christmas presents, saying it's “proof positive that this is a socialist family.” [7/29/08]

Smearing Hillary Clinton

On the June 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, panelist Bill Kristol stated of Sen. Hillary Clinton: “She's put behind her the horrible sexism and misogyny the Democratic primary voters demonstrated, which I'm appalled by, personally.” In fact, Kristol -- who previously declared that "[w]hite women are a problem, that's, you know -- we all live with that" -- joined several Fox News personalities and hosts in smearing Clinton throughout the year:

  • While discussing Clinton's emotional response to a question before the New Hampshire primary, Fox News contributor Dick Morris stated on Hannity & Colmes, “I believe that there could well come a time when there is such a serious threat to the United States that she breaks down like that.” Morris added, “I don't think she ought to be president.” The next day on Fox & Friends, radio host Laura Ingraham similarly asserted: "[R]emember we have Islamic jihadists, [Osama] bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and all these other freaks that want to come to the United States and wreak havoc upon our population. We can't have people who break down and start crying at the most difficult moments." [1/7/08]
  • During Fox News coverage of the New Hampshire primaries, Kristol attributed Clinton's victory to “the tears,” saying, “She pretended to cry; the women liked it.” He added, “The women were sorry for her, and she won.” Kristol is one of several media figures who described Clinton's actions as “calculated,” reviving a characterization frequently made by the media that Clinton is “calculating.” [1/8/08]
  • On America's Election HQ, co-host Megyn Kelly echoed a Washington Times column that questioned the legality of a concert by Sir Elton John for Clinton's campaign, even after the campaign posted a statement from FEC spokesman Bob Biersack saying he does not believe there is “anything unlawful about Elton John performing in a concert to raise money for a US presidential candidate.” Additionally, Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl falsely claimed that a 1981 FEC advisory opinion stated that “you couldn't volunteer any time if you're a foreign national.” [3/27/08]
  • On America's Election HQ, radio host Tammy Bruce suggested that Clinton suffers from “mythomania ... part of a larger psychiatric scheme of people who make up fantastic stories to bolster their own image.” As purported evidence, Bruce asserted that Clinton said her daughter, Chelsea, was “at the World Trade Center on September 11th.” In fact, Hillary Clinton made no such claim. [4/7/08]
  • On Your World, author and radio host Marc Rudov said during a discussion of Clinton: “You know what? The woman is not called a B-word because she's assertive and aggressive; she's called a B-word because she acts like one.” [4/10/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, Morris falsely asserted: “Hillary Clinton in the 1980s was on the board of a foundation group called the New World Foundation that gave money to the PLO, which at the time was identified as a terror organization.” In fact, the New World Foundation reportedly did not “g[i]ve money to the PLO.” [4/17/08]
  • On Special Report, Beltway Boys co-host Mort Kondracke presented a “theory” for why Clinton may be having a “good time” on the campaign trail: "[S]omebody I know has a theory about this. Remember back when [Bill] Clinton was president of the United States, people said that he's really Satan because he walks through life and people collapse around him and go to jail and die, and all this kind of stuff? Well, this person says Hillary's a vampire. She's sucking the blood out of Barack Obama." Kondracke did not name his “theor[ist],” but the purported “theory” had been publicly articulated before, by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. [5/5/08]
  • On America's Newsroom, while discussing a video clip of Clinton drinking a beer on the campaign plane, Hemmer asked Fox News' “body language expert” Tonya Reiman: "[I]s that an honest moment, a moment of levity?" Reiman replied: “You know, the only thing that struck me as odd is, she's holding the beer with her left hand, and she's a righty. And if you think about how you would normally take a sip, it's a little bit awkward to drink with your nondominant hand, unless you have a reason to be doing that.” [3/4/08]
  • On Hannity & Colmes, Morris asserted that Clinton's “temper is a cool, angry, 'I'll, you know, slit your throat in the middle of the night' temper.” As Media Matters has noted, media figures have repeatedly portrayed Clinton and her advisers as violent or ruthless. [1/18/08]

“A great run on ACORN”

As Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert noted, Fox News mentioned the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) 556 times over a five-day period in October and nearly 1,500 times throughout October. Indeed, as Boehlert subsequently noted, retiring Fox News anchor Brit Hume subsequently told Politico, “We had a great run on ACORN.” But that “great run” often featured misleading or false statements:

  • On Hannity & Colmes, The Wall Street Journal's John Fund falsely claimed that ACORN “almost got a slush fund in the housing bailout bill a few weeks ago.” In fact, neither the September draft proposal nor the final version of the bill in question contained any language mentioning ACORN. [10/9/08]
  • On Fox & Friends, Morris baselessly accused ACORN of “committing voter fraud.” In fact, ACORN did not stand accused of “committing voter fraud,” and Morris did not point to any allegations that ACORN engaged in voter fraud. [10/15/08]
  • On America's Newsroom, Kelly mocked ACORN's statement that it was required under Florida law to submit a voter registration form filed under the name “Mickey Mouse” to the Orange County, Florida, board of elections. In fact, Florida law calls for a $1,000 fine for each registration withheld by third-party voter registration groups. [10/14/08]

“The fix is in” for Al Franken in Minnesota

In discussing the postelection process of certifying the preliminary results from the Minnesota Senate race and the ensuing recount as mandated by state law, Fox News hosts and guests repeated and echoed several false claims to suggest that Democratic candidate Al Franken was seeking to steal the election from Republican Sen. Norm Coleman:

  • On The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly discussed a recently named board established to certify the vote and oversee the recount and claimed that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D) was “actively rooting for Al Franken” and that “the fix is in.” But O'Reilly did not note that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty approved of the composition of the canvassing board Ritchie named or that a lawyer for Coleman's campaign reportedly said that the “state should feel good about who's on the panel.” [11/13/08]
  • On The Beltway Boys, co-host Fred Barnes echoed the discredited rumor that ballots in the race were mishandled, stating: “We've seen, under some questionable circumstances, Franken gaining, you know, 32 ballots from the trunk of somebody's car that had been sitting there for a few days. I mean, I find that a bit suspicious.” In fact, state officials refuted rumors that the ballots were handled improperly, and a lawyer for Coleman's campaign, who initially raised questions about those ballots, reportedly said afterward that he had been assured the ballots were not tampered with. [11/15/08]
  • Echoing Coleman's campaign, O'Reilly falsely claimed on The O'Reilly Factor that Coleman “was certified the winner” in the race, adding, “Coleman won by a mere 215 votes.” In fact, the Minnesota State Canvassing Board did not certify a winner in the Senate race, having authorized an automatic recount of ballots. [11/18/08]
  • On Studio B, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed that Ritchie is a “former communist” and a “former member of the Communist Party” but provided no evidence to support either claim. [11/19/08]
  • On Special Report, guest host Bret Baier asserted that the Franken campaign has been “dogged” in challenging questionable ballots and then aired a photograph of a ballot challenged by Franken, stating: “Franken is challenging this ... ballot, although the bubble beside Coleman's name appears to be clearly marked.” However, Baier did not note or display any of the published examples of ballots that the Coleman campaign has challenged which “appear[] to be clearly marked” for Franken or another candidate besides Coleman. [11/21/08]

“Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster”

Fox News hosts and guests frequently advanced the discredited suggestion that the poor, minorities, and those seeking to expand affordable housing were solely or primarily responsible for the crisis facing the housing and credit markets, often blaming the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA):

  • On Your World, host Neil Cavuto conflated giving home mortgages to minorities with risky lending practices, suggesting that there should have been “a clarion call that said, 'Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.' ” [9/18/08]
  • In a column, O'Reilly falsely claimed that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) “sat by as mortgage brokers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made bad loans.” Also, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace did not challenge a similar claim by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) that efforts by the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress to regulate Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae “were stopped at every turn by Democrats.” [9/18/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, Ingraham said that “the problem here is government intervention in the free markets” and baselessly suggested that 1995 rules strengthening the CRA “pushed all these institutions to lend to minority communities, many were very risky loans.” [9/25/08]
  • During the special newscast Saving Our Economy: What's Next?, Baier repeated or failed to challenge numerous false assertions about the role of affordable housing initiatives in the financial crisis and Democratic responses to the crisis. [10/5/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor and in a FoxNews.com article, Fox News deputy editor Bill Sammon suggested that Frank allowed his relationship in the 1990s with Herb Moses, a Fannie Mae official at the time, to improperly influence his conduct as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. However, in his article, Sammon cited only an anonymous Republican congressional staffer and a member of the conservative Media Research Center. Sammon also misrepresented Frank's record by reporting that Frank “spent years blocking GOP lawmakers from imposing tougher regulations” on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without noting that during the period in question, Frank supported legislation to increase regulation of Fannie Mae and create a government regulatory agency that would oversee some aspects of the company. [10/6/08]

Other Fox News smears

On the July 2 edition of Fox & Friends, Doocy and Kilmeade labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe “attack dogs,” claiming that Steinberg's June 28 article on the “ominous trend” in Fox News' ratings was a “hit piece.” During the segment, however, Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered -- the journalists' teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe's hair moved further back on his head. Fox News gave no indication that the photos had been altered. But the photo smears of Steinberg and Reddicliffe fit a pattern at Fox News of smearing and attacking:

  • On Red Eye, host Greg Gutfeld criticized comedian Ellen DeGeneres' announcement of her planned marriage to actress Portia de Rossi: “For me, public exhortations of love are no different than telling everyone how great your bowel movements are since switching to All-Bran -- no one gives a [bleep] except you.” Gutfeld then said: “And so, this is why I never discuss my marriage with anyone, which is the main reason why John Stamos and I are so happy together. And if you disagree with me, then you, sir, are worse than Hitler.” But Gutfeld himself has engaged in “public exhortations of love” and has talked about his wife. In addition to writing about his wife in a book, according to a 2005 New York Observer item, Gutfeld “talks incessantly and adoringly of his 24-year-old Russian bride, Elena, and carries with him an envelope chock-full of photos.” [5/20/08]
  • On Fox & Friends, while discussing reports of a shortage of one type of IP address, Carlson stated: “I was wondering if we should call up Al Gore. Because maybe he would have a solution for this, since he invented the Internet.” In fact, Gore never said that he “invented the Internet.” [7/7/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly attacked former Vice President Al Gore for delivering a July 19 speech at the Netroots Nation conference, calling Gore an “evil enabler” and comparing the event to gatherings by the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party, a pattern of comparing progressives to Nazis and the Klan that O'Reilly would continually repeat. O'Reilly made his attacks on Gore and the Netroots conference after asserting that the blog Daily Kos posted “hateful e-mails” about former Bush White House press secretary Tony Snow, who died shortly before the conference. But while O'Reilly repeatedly linked Netroots Nation to Daily Kos, Daily Kos was not an official organizer or sponsor of the convention. [7/21/08]
  • On Cavuto on Business, Jonathan Hoenig, a regular panelist on Fox News' Cashin' In, falsely asserted that both Obama and Sen. Joe Biden “have made it very clear that they support socialized health care.” Hoenig went on to say: “I know it sounds kind of curt in this age of political correctness and altruism, but why should I be responsible for paying for Joe Biden's brain aneurysms?” Biden suffered two brain aneurysms in 1988. [8/23/08]
  • During coverage of the Democratic National Convention, Kelly speculated that changing some of the words in Michelle Obama's speech could provide Obama's critics with “fodder.” Noting that Obama said in her speech, “The world as it is just won't do,” Kelly stated: “If you replace 'world' with 'country', you are back to the same debate, arguably, that you have been having about Michelle Obama's feelings about the country. Did she give her critics any fodder with that comment?” [8/25/08]
  • On America's Newsroom, Fox News contributor and NPR correspondent Juan Williams asserted of Michelle Obama's upcoming speech at the DNC: “Well, she's got to be herself, but I do not think she can go for it all out in terms of this kind of militant anger that she sometimes uses.” Williams gave no examples of what he claims to be “this kind of militant anger” that Michelle Obama “sometimes uses.” [8/25/08]
  • America's Election HQ aired numerous reports documenting claims by Republicans and the McCain campaign that they “rescued” American flags that were going to be “disposed of” by the Democrats after their convention at Invesco Field in Denver. But during the reports, Fox News gave no indication that it had sought to contact a Democratic Party official or Obama campaign spokesperson for comment, and only reported a Democratic response hours after it began reporting the Republican claims. [9/6/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly said that Michelle Obama “looks like an angry woman.” [9/16/08]
  • On The O'Reilly Factor, after Reiman claimed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's body language during a recent speech suggested she “practices the speech too much,” O'Reilly responded: “You know who used to do that, who practiced for hours before making a speech? And I'm not making any comparison here. So, don't -- you crazy left-wing websites out there, it's not a comparison. Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler practiced for hours, all of his ... gestures and everything else before he went out there.” [9/30/08]